Welcoming our inaugural class of Senior Policy Fellows

Three fellows walk into an NGO…

By Ugbaad Kosar, senior policy advisor

The Carbon180 Senior Policy Fellowship is a year-long program for those with deep technical expertise who are new to policy. Over the next 12 months, fellows will tackle some of the biggest obstacles facing carbon removal and work to develop and socialize ambitious policy ideas that will enable carbon removal solutions to scale over the coming decade.

Much of the first few months of 2020 was spent preparing for the start of our Senior Policy Fellowship. We workshopped seating arrangements in anticipation of new office mates, finalized our job description, and shared our posting to any job board, university portal, and friend that we could reach. The program was broadly established: we anticipated frequent trips to the Hill, were ready to attend events and conferences across the country, and planned to host a summit to highlight the work of our fellows. Just as the first applications began landing in my inbox in March, stay-at-home orders swept the nation. It quickly became clear that our fellowship program would need to be significantly revamped to accommodate our new “normal.”

Mapping a course for impact

As we began to review applications for our Senior Policy Fellowship, we were overwhelmed by the enthusiasm and range of backgrounds and experiences. This program is geared towards those with deep technical expertise who are new to policy, have a healthy dose of climate rage, and are committed to supporting a diverse, equitable, and inclusive carbon removal field.

Over the next year, our inaugural class of fellows will participate in a curriculum focused on policy development and advocacy. They will work with the Carbon180 team, network, and key stakeholders to develop and socialize ambitious policy ideas that will enable carbon removal strategies to scale over the coming decade. Our fellows will tackle some of the biggest obstacles facing carbon removal, leveraging their unique technical expertise to propose novel, inclusive, and science-driven solutions.

The benefits of change

In the end, we decided to make our fellowship virtual. This alteration was an obstacle but one possible to overcome — in fact, it served as a reminder of the privilege we have in access to fully remote work. Making this change also came with a few unexpected advantages. Applications were now open to people across the country, and with no one required to relocate immediately, we were able to interview folks who couldn’t have applied if we’d been exclusively based in our DC office. Given the wall-to-wall coverage of COVID-19, and the many parallels drawn between the pandemic and climate change, pushing forward with a paid and remote fellowship that works to address the climate crisis was more important than ever.

As carbon removal continues to gain traction and carve out a space in mainstream climate conversations, we need our nation’s best and brightest to be ready to fill new and necessary roles in society. Carbon180 works with a diverse set of stakeholders including policymakers, businesses, research institutions, and NGOs — and we want to make sure that we are both making space for and actively recruiting diverse, emerging leaders that bring new perspectives, fresh ideas, and unique expertise to the growing field.

Welcoming our fellows aboard

After months of recruitment, and a few hundred Zoom calls, we recently welcomed three incredible fellows to our team. These fellows have already made considerable contributions to their fields and we are thrilled they are applying their talents to our world’s most pressing challenges with Carbon180.

Meet our fellows below, and keep up with us on Twitter and email to see more from them in the months to come.

Lucia Dora Simonelli

Fellowship focus: direct air capture (DAC)

In graduate school, career options for a theoretical mathematician were presented as a dichotomy between academia and industry, but during my time as a postdoc at the Abdus Salam International Centre for Theoretical Physics I was exposed to policy and diplomacy as realms in which even mathematicians can play an important role. I grew convinced that I wanted to explore the policy world further, especially because I truly believe the existential threat of climate change requires “all hands on deck.” Last year I had the opportunity to serve as the AAAS Congressional Fellow in the Office of Senator Sheldon Whitehouse working on his energy and environment team. Being embedded in the legislative process was invaluable, and through this experience I became aware of the importance and potential of carbon removal policy. I am very fortunate to be able to spend the coming year on the Carbon180 team, learning about policy work from a different perspective.

This is a question I have been reflecting on recently, especially given that my research is abstract and far removed from any specific policy issue. The first answers that come to mind are the more obvious examples of using analytical and quantitative skills. But I have realized that mathematics has influenced my approach to policy in a subtle but powerful way: mathematics taught me humility. Being a mathematician has taught me to understand when I really know something, and of equal importance, when I don’t. Plunging into the policy world has been a great adventure and every day I am faced with more things that I don’t know. My approach to acknowledging and filling these knowledge gaps is greatly influenced by my mathematical training.

This is a tough one! I honestly don’t consider myself an expert in anything, but for the sake of answering the question I suppose I could say that I am becoming an expert in learning. I no longer feel uncomfortable or lost when I don’t know something, and I think I owe this to a growing confidence in my capacity to learn.

Meron Tesfaye

Fellowship focus: bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS)

I consider carbon removal a pathway towards bringing equity to the global climate challenge. As the largest and most consistent contributor to carbon emissions in the world, I believe the US has a responsibility to not just reduce emissions but to also remove emissions. This is critical for curbing impacts of climate change which will provide young countries the margins necessary for growth. In graduate school I came to realize that absent more robust policy and strategy, important research efforts will have minimal social benefits. So, I decided to employ my scientific training towards policy interventions that alleviate climate change impacts.

As a chemical engineer I am trained to employ a smaller unit of interest as a way of understanding and breaking down a larger system or problem. This mode of thinking allows me to be versatile in approaching policy; it provides a framework to ask and understand: What are the boundaries around this policy question? What is the relevant science? Who are the stakeholders and decision makers? How are they connected to one another?”

I am excited by the growing interest in carbon removal solutions as part of global climate change efforts. Additionally, I’m excited by organizations like Carbon180 that are pursuing interdisciplinary approaches to carbon removal while setting the right tone and equity-based value system that considers communities directly impacted by this issue.

Tim Steeves

Fellowship focus: Regulatory landscape

When I initially pursued academic science, I wanted to work in the fundamental research behind renewable energy. My work as a scientist required that I contextualize my fundamental research, and I learned more about how energy and carbon technology were (or weren’t) being implemented industrially. The gap in translation was surprising to me, and as I became less enthusiastic about a future career in academia, I decided to pursue policy as a career interest.

Working as a research scientist taught me to learn from others as much as I can. Collaboration and mutual exchange of information and expertise is a cornerstone of any good scientific endeavor, and as I enter a new field I want to bring this dynamic along with me.

I think I’m most excited to better understand the interplay between regulation and technology development/implementation. Carbon removal is having its moment, and I want to know the best way to help turn that moment into a new path forward for our relationship with carbon.

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